Northern NDP MPPs call on Premier to take ‘immediate action’ on forest fire situation in the region
Tim Brody - Editor
NDP MPPs Sol Mamakwa (Kiiwetinoong) and Judith Monteith-Farrell (Thunder Bay – Atikokan) have written to Ontario Premier Doug Ford in a July 22 open letter requesting that he take immediate action on the fires burning across the North.
“Fire is threatening the safety of families and communities in Kiiwetinoong. Five First Nations are in the process of evacuation and more are on standby,” they wrote, adding, “As of July 21, there were 166 active forest fires burning across the Northwest, the majority of them in Kiiwetinoong.”
“We are asking you, Premier Doug Ford, to send more help and to declare a state of emergency now. More resources on the ground are needed, without delay, in order to successfully fight these fires and make communities safe again. This includes more helicopters, water bombers, and more firefighters.
“We are thankful – and local leaders are thankful – for the dedication and support provided by the firefighters who have travelled from other parts of the province, and Canada, and even farther away, such as Mexico. However, with the increasing severity of wildfires each year we need more local firefighting capacity here, and the firefighters we do have in the North need seamless re-certifications. This requires your political commitment to do this so the resources can be in place for when this happens again – which it will,” they wrote.
Mamakwa and Monteith-Farrell went on to write, “Vulnerable people and families, especially in fly-in communities, need help to leave their homes, and to be flown out of their communities and into nearby locations for safe shelter. You must not leave them on their own. They need immediate support to find evacuation locations as close to their home communities in Northern Ontario as possible due to the wraparound supports that those from fly-in communities require.
“Our offices have been hearing from communities that are doing the work to safely evacuate their people that they have been informed that there is not enough air support or beds for evacuees.
“Without any action from you today Premier Ford, these fires will only become a greater humanitarian, health, and climate disaster for the people of Northern Ontario.
“As the Premier, you must do everything to ensure that these fires do not grow larger and to take further measures using the resources of the province to ensure the safety of Ontarians and protection of property. That’s why we’re requesting that you come to Red Lake and see for yourself the devastation this has wrought and why more resources are required.”
The letter was CC’d to Greg Rickford, Minister of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry, Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare, Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler - Nishnawbe Aski Nation, and Eric Melillo – Kenora MP.
As of last Sunday evening (July 25), the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry’s Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services (AFFES) reported that there were 140 active fires burning in the northwest region.
AFFES provided the following information on what they are calling Fires of Note:
Red Lake 65 – of concern to Poplar Hill First Nation
- Fire has been remapped to 17,598 hectares and is 6 km northwest of the community.
- The eastern edge of the fire continues to be monitored.
- Fire behavior is limited on the eastern and southern sides of the fire.
- An ignition plan has been approved for Red Lake 65 and an ignition will proceed when conditions are safe to put fire on the landscape to bring the fire to natural boundaries.
- Three FireRanger crews are assigned to protect the community and critical infrastructure.
- Utilize bucketing helicopters on the fire’s edge as required.
- The Ministry of the Solicitor General has coordinated an evacuation of the community.
Red Lake 51 – of concern to Deer Lake First Nation
- Fire size is sized at 51,926 hectares and is located approximately 24 kilometres west of the community.
- Fire behavior has been limited over the past several days.
- Three crews are focused on the protection of the community and critical infrastructure.
- The Ministry of the Solicitor General has coordinated an evacuation of the community.
Sioux Lookout 60 - of concern to Cat Lake First Nation
- The fire is 1487 hectares and located 8 kilometres west of the community.
- The fire displayed limited activity in recent days due to weather conditions.
- Community protection efforts are ongoing.
- 6 crews are assigned to the fire. Crews are establishing hoselines on the fire and the fire received 5mm of rain Friday night.
- An Incident Management Team from Nova Scotia is managing the fire.
Red Lake 77 – Fire of concern to Red Lake
- Fire is not under control at 23,404 hectares.
- Red Lake 77 is approximately 28 kilometres west/northwest of Madsen and is located approximately 33 kilometres west of Red Lake.
- Fire behaviour was limited with small areas of open flame spreading on the perimeter of the fire.
- A total of 30 pieces of heavy equipment and their operators have been engaged in building approximately 40 kilometres of fire guard in strategic areas.
- Fireguard continues to be built east of the fire, heavy equipment is making good progress.
- Crews are working alongside municipal firefighters to protect the community and critical infrastructure.
- Fire is not under control and is 146,519 hectares.
- Fire has been active over the past several days producing smoke at the local level.
- Crews are working to identify ignition opportunities to bring the fire to natural boundaries.
- An Incident Management Team is established on the fire.
The Ministry of the Solicitor General informed The Bulletin last Friday (July 23) afternoon that the Ontario government through Emergency Management Ontario (EMO) and the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry (MNDMNRF) have supported the full evacuation of Deer Lake First Nation and Poplar Hill First Nation and a precautionary evacuation of vulnerable residents of Pikangikum First Nation.
“At the request of community leadership, the evacuation of vulnerable residents from North Spirit Lake First Nation and Cat Lake First Nation is ongoing. The communities are in the process of evacuating in light of their concerns related to nearby wildfires and smoke impacts with the priority being given to vulnerable residents.”
Andrew Morrison, Media Relations, Ministry of the Solicitor General shared, “In support of the federal government’s responsibility for the health, safety and well-being of First Nation communities on-reserve, and consistent with EMO’s role in coordinating the province’s response to emergencies, EMO is working with several municipalities across Ontario that can provide support and assistance to evacuees. We would like to thank Thunder Bay, Kapuskasing, Cochrane, Timmins, Greater Sudbury, Kenora, Sioux Lookout, Sault Ste. Marie, Peel Region, Mississauga, Lac Seul First Nation and the NAV Centre in Cornwall for agreeing to host evacuees. We appreciate the ongoing collaboration with Dryden and Ottawa acting as a hub for evacuees along with Pickle Lake and Hearst as they prepare to provide additional support, and would like to thank the many other communities who are working with EMO to prepare for the potential need for further evacuations if current wildfire conditions persist or worsen.
“The province will continue to collaborate closely with affected First Nation communities, participating municipalities, the federal government, and the NGO sector to ensure that all necessary resources are deployed to protect people impacted by wildfires.”
Jonathan Scott, AFFES Information Officer, shared last Friday afternoon that some cooler temperatures and precipitation last week helped FireRangers, “A lot of fires in the northwest region haven’t been as active the last few days, they’ve only been smoldering or creeping.”
However, he said, “We’re going to need more rain and consistently across the region. A lot of the rain that has been coming through has been very scattered where some areas get very large amounts, but other areas do not.”
Scott said that as of last Friday afternoon, 81 four-person FireRanger crews were assigned to fires in the region, with 27 crews on alert.
Scott said Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry FireRangers in the northwest region have been getting a hand from outside the province, “That’s been helpful, extra personnel to help out on the fires and bring specialists in as well. We have over 100 people from Mexico. There’s people from Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Wisconsin. That’s been a help, extra resources to assist with managing fires as well as putting fires out.”
He also shared last Friday afternoon, “For fires to date, provincially, we’ve had 883 fires to date this season. We compare that to the 10 year average, the 10 year average is 502, so we’re above for total fires to date. If you look at total hectares burned, to date, is 508,421. Comparing that hectares to date to the 10 year average, the 10 year average is 152,698 hectares.” Scott said last year there were 435 forest fires in the province with 6258 hectares burned.
Of the 883 forest fires, he said the majority of them, 714, were in northwestern Ontario, with 169 being in northeastern Ontario.
Due to high to extreme forest fire hazard conditions, effective 12:01 a.m. Saturday July 10, the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry issued updated boundaries for a Restricted Fire Zone in the Kenora, Fort Frances, Dryden and Thunder Bay Districts and portions of the Sioux Lookout, Red Lake, Nipigon and Wawa Districts. The Restricted Fire Zone remains in effect until further notice. Outdoor fires are banned. Portable gas stoves may still be used BUT must be handled with extreme care.
People can learn more about Restricted Fire Zones at https://www.ontario.ca/page/outdoor-fire-restrictions.
People can find information about forest fire activity in the area and view an interactive map at: https://www.ontario.ca/page/forest-fires.